How video games have reflected American life

by Dr John Wills

8 Jun 2018

British Academy Summer Showcase

This blog is part of our Summer Showcase series, celebrating our free festival of ideas for curious minds.

Computer and video games (the terms are interchangeable) have been with us for almost half a century, with the first commercial title, Pong, a simple game depicting table-tennis, released in 1972.  Over the years, alongside fantastic stories of alien onslaught in Taito’s Space Invaders (1978) and collectible creatures in Niantic’s Pokemon Go (2016), many titles have explored scenarios drawn from the real world, including the American experience. As a US cultural historian, my research tracks shifting depictions of America across the modern medium of video games.

Programmers have designed video games based around myriad elements of American life, including digital versions of national pastimes such as basketball and baseball, and simulations of work. Video games continue to offer commentary on society and politics.  However, few scholars have explored the content of such games and how they subtly reflect and reframe American popular culture.

Dr John Wills is a Reader in American History and Culture at the University of Kent. He specialises in environmental issues and popular culture, and edits the journal European Journal of American Culture. His most recent publication is Disney Culture (2017) with Rutgers University Press, with a book on video games forthcoming with Johns Hopkins University Press.


Sign up to our email newsletters